The student of music must first concentrate on strengthening the basics and acquiring substance.
Senior disciple of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and one of the torchbearers of the distinctive Kirana gharana, Upendra Bhat is a household name in Dakshina Kanara. Based in Mangalore, the artist has performed extensively in India and abroad, including the U.K and the U.S. Known for his sonorous voice and powerful taans modelled after his guru’s unique style, Pt. Bhat’s music is characterised by expressive singing in alaap, thumri and abhang. During his visit to Chennai, the veteran vocalist shared some of his views about music, the current scenario and the future of the classical arts.
What prompted your initiation into music? Please highlight some nuggets of advice from Bhimsenji and your special relationship with him.
I am a first generation musician. In 1965, I first heard Pt. Bhimsen Joshi’s music at Mangalore and was spellbound by its sheer vitality and impact. Having trained under vidwan Narayan Pai and Pt. Madhav Gudi, I became Bhimsenji’s disciple in 1980. “Assimilation is 90 per cent listening and ten per cent formal instruction” is a valuable piece of advice he offered. Disciples were encouraged to listen to Hindustani and Carnatic genres, thereby maximising on opportunities to evolve an individualistic style. He also stressed that applause is an incentive for improving one’s standards in the next performance.
As one of the classical greats, his contribution is prolific, and includes not only Hindustani classical but also natya sangeet, tumri, abhang, Dasarapadagalu, Bhavageet, jugalbandi and songs in Hindi, Marathi and Kannada films. In February 2007, I compiled a special programme commemorating his achievements on the occasion of his 85th birthday.
What is the difference in approach and attitude of disciples then and now? The role of the media in promoting talent...
Earlier, the emphasis was on the continuance of the guru-sishya parampara and laying a solid foundation with due respect for traditional mores. Achievement rested on unrelenting hard work and sacrifice. Today’s students have immense grasping power and intelligence. However, they sometimes lack single-minded focus on riyaz. With media coverage and performing opportunities galore, the route to recognition offers shortcuts. So, youngsters want overnight fame as performers, without the commensurate effort.
But the media also has a responsibility to uphold. For instance, a brouhaha is generated over each over-hyped ‘Indian Idol’ who gets his five minutes of fame based on a three-minute performance. But what follows? Without the right foundation and training from a guru, how can an artist sustain a standard? So, the student of music must first concentrate on strengthening the basics and acquiring substance. Worship music as Sharadha Saraswathi. Work on voice, diction and clarity with patience, is my advice. Only then can one realise the satisfaction of creativity (manodharma) in fullest measure.
Your performances abroad and memorable experiences...
Since the audience comprises only serious listeners who are present by choice, there is no floating population drifting in and out. Even if small, it is a committed audience that sits through the whole performance. They are interested and knowledgeable, asking pertinent questions during my lec-dems and interactive voice culture sessions. One incident imprinted in memory is when Pt. Ravi Shankar attended my San Diego concert with his family. Later, we had dinner together followed by a wonderful discussion about music.
Your observations about rasikas and Chennai’s December Festival...
Classical music attracts predominantly age 50-plus listeners — a cause for concern. We need to build a base of young listeners for the future. Through more classical music-based TV programmes, artists could educate listeners and draw more rasikas. I have heard the highest praise accorded to the December Fest, but have not yet visited Chennai during the Season. So, I look forward to participating and presenting the high points of the Kirana Gharana both in the ‘Season’ and the Kalakshetra festivals which so wonderfully showcase the classical arts.LALITHAA KRISHNAN